“Ghostbusters” writer Katie Dippold on writing a movie internet trolls wanted to fail
I was lucky enough to attend an early screening of the new Ghostbusters movie and even luckier still to be allowed to bring a friend with me. As the lights dimmed and the movie was about to start, my friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I just hope this is really good. It’s like having a female president.”
Sure, the comparison might seem dramatic, but given the last year or so of heated internet debates and think pieces on what it means to make an all-female Ghostbusters reboot, it’s not an unfair comparison. Perhaps no one is more aware of the stakes involved in rebooting Ghostbusters than Katie Dippold, the Parks and Recreation vet who was tapped to pen the new film’s script alongside director Paul Feig. Dippold is the kind of perfectly awkward, endearing human who just radiates an “I was born to write a Ghostbusters movie” kind of vibe. You weren’t aware that was a vibe humans could have? I wasn’t either, until I met Dippold at the Los Angeles press junket for Ghostbusters.
She began the interview by asking up front if this would be one of those stories where it’s just a question and then her answer, or if her quotes would be worked in throughout. When I assured her I was planning on writing the latter, she breathed a sigh of relief and noticeably relaxed before explaining that was probably for the best because she “tends to ramble.” And she does ramble, a bit, but in a passionate and (it’s worth reiterating) utterly endearing way. Her passion for not just writing and storytelling, but for writing this script and telling this story is clear. She’s a fangirl of the originals and it shows in every answer that she’s equal parts honored to have had the chance to work on this project and nervous about even the possibility of disappointing her fellow fans.
“At the very beginning when [Feig] first asked me to do it, I was excited and at the same time, immediately terrified,” she explained. “But I tried just as much as possible to focus on the excitement of it, because the first movie is so special, and I think a big part of that is because it’s so fun and you can feel Dan Aykroyd’s love for the paranormal and enthusiasm in it.”
That focus on excitement and enthusiasm is made all the more impressive by the circumstances surrounding the writing process for this film. While most screenwriters only have to worry about hypothetical future hate their project might garner, Dippold faced a very different challenge. Backlash for the new Ghostbusters movie began before she ever put pen to paper (or, more accurately, fingers to keyboard), and she was very much aware of the public conversation as she worked on the script.
“[The backash] started so quickly and we hadn’t scripted it yet. We were just still talking about the story,” Dippold said. “I was surprised. I always knew the bar was going to be very high and it was going to be extremely hard to reach that bar. I didn’t think people would be, um, mad about it, you know?”
And people were mad about it. Some people, that is. In actual numbers, the Ghostbusters detractors were actually fairly small, but they were incredibly vocal and their complaints were heard loudly across the internet. Others though, including not just feminist media critics, but most of the cast of the original films (almost all of whom make cameos in the reboot) and fans of the originals who were okay with the idea of a reboot instead of another sequel in their beloved franchise, embraced the film early on. While Dippold and Feig tried to ignore the vocal minority railing against the movie, it proved impossible to ignore them completely.
Anyone familiar with the Ghostbusters controversy (although it feels wrong to even call it that) will take note of a few pointed moments in the film, when the titular Ghostbusters respond, amongst themselves, to the internet naysayers who don’t believe in their science. Were those moments planned as a response to the trolls who attacked the movie? No, Dippold insists they weren’t — but that doesn’t mean she and Feig were unaware of the dual meaning they hold.
“We tried to shut it out, but organically, stuff would seep in,” she explained. “We truly did not set out to address it, but there are little moments of like internet comments and stuff like that….In general, I really hate internet comments. I just think people can be so mean when they’re anonymous. So, I just think it hit the story of the movie, but I’m sure it was just in our heads 100 million percent.”
In spite of all the mean internet comments she’s had to dodge since taking on this project, Dippold is actually most concerned with what the film’s supporters think of the final product.
“I feel like a lot of people early on would ask, ‘Well how is this different because it’s the female version?’ People can’t detach the female thing, like this is a different thing because it’s female. Where to me, it’s like, ‘No, it’s four ghostbusters,’” she said. But when it comes to people who are excited to see this story — and specifically to see it told with female protagonists, “that’s the thing that makes me the most nervous. When I think about the people I hope like the movie, one I hope the original team — that would make my heart very happy — and two the people who have been very supportive of the movie. Like the people who have been excited about it. It would break my heart if they’re disappointed because they’ve been so nice.”
With strong predictions for the movie’s opening weekend, it looks like those people — the ones who have been so supportive of the movie since day one — are making their way to the theater to see Ghostbusters. And that, ultimately, will be the biggest statement fans can make, not in tweets and Reddit threads, but in ticket sales, to prove to studios that fans care more about a good story than the gender of the people leading it.